Tag Archives: Generations

Seniors Catch the Surfing Wave

Recognizing that retirees and others “of an age” did not enjoy the advantage of on-the-job computer training a number of state and local agencies are working together and with public agencies including libraries to provide learning opportunities for seniors. Senior Surf Day at the St. Anthony Library is just one example of the opportunities available for seniors who want to know more about the web, search engines, senior-oriented Internet sites and more.

There’s a Senior Surf Day scheduled for 12:30-2:30 p.m. Thursday, October 27, at the St. Anthony Library, 2941 Pentagon Drive in the St. Anthony Village shopping center. This session is sponsored by the library in collaboration with Senior LinkAge Line, the Minnesota Board on Aging and MSMP. There will be another Senior Surf Dday at St. Anthony on November 17. Questions? Call 612 543 6075.

This session is one of scores of similar training sessions scheduled for seniors throughout the region and the state. For more information contact any one of the sponsoring organizations.

Family History Fair at Minneapolis Central Library

Frequently I have extolled the virtues and tried to described the sheer delight of working in Special Collections at Minneapolis Central Library.  If you haven’t had the time or the inclination, think about participating in the Family History Fair next Saturday, October 22, 9:30 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.  The free and open Fair is will be in Pohlad Hall, second floor of the Central Library at 300 Nicollet Mall.


Participants will have an opportunity browse special interest and ethnic tables, to connect with genealogy experts, learn how to embark on a family history project, and to participate in a broad range of information sessions including gathering family stories, finding ancestors in other countries and discovering family history in your attic or around the dinner table.  There will also be an opportunity tour the Genealogy Resources of Minneapolis Central Library.


Register for the free event online (www.hclib.org) or call 612 543 8000.

Harlan Cleveland’s Characterization of Information As a Resource

Recent reflections on Mulford Q. Sibley drew me like a mental magnet to thoughts about another of our information age visionaries, Harlan Cleveland.  Diplomat and Statesman, founding Dean of the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, information age pioneer and thinker.  It was in his role as teacher that Cleveland launched many of us on a path of thinking in new ways about information.  Information, in Cleveland construct, is a force, a renewable resource of inestimable value that can be described in graphic terms.  Though I never knew Harlan Cleveland his prescient thoughts on the properties of information still remind and inspire.

When Cleveland died in 2008 I thought and wrote about him and about the impact he had on my world view and on society’s understanding of information as a resource.  Though for the most part I wrote for myself, my recollection is that the essay was published by the Minnesota Independent Scholars.  [Note 1]

It seems somehow appropriate to resurrect those words now, not on the merits of text but because the tribute offers a quick synopsis of Cleveland’s basic principles.  Cleveland’s cogent definitions and descriptions provide a lay person’s guide to principles that deserve a reread;  his simple but elegant sound bites provide a framework for addressing today’s intractable information challenges.

Following is my humble – if dated – effort to honor Cleveland and to share his thoughts:

It’s a sad and sobering irony to reflect on the recent death of Harlan Cleveland midst the energy and hope that reign at the Media Reform Conference going full steam this weekend at the Minneapolis Convention Center.  For decades Harlan Cleveland has been my guiding star in a turbulent information era.

Twenty-five years ago I was involved with a conference bearing the irresistible title “A Question of Balance: Public Sector, Private Sector Interaction in the Delivery of Information Services.  The conference was a typically Minnesotan response to a report from the National Commission on Libraries and Information Science — from whence we derived the catchy subtle.  With prescient naiveté we gathered journalists, media moguls, access advocates and gangs of librarians for two days of weighing the issues raised in the report, a report that one speaker accurately described  as “pernicious.”

[The gathering was not without its lively moments – most notably the spectacle of Paul Zurkowski, head of the Information Industry Association, storming down the aisle, pointing his cane as he snarled “Poppycock! at the elegant visionary Anita Schiller.]

The keynote speaker at that event – and my all-time Information Hero – was Harlan Cleveland.  He spoke, as he frequently wrote, about the characteristics of information “as a resource, “the basic, yet abstract information.”   Cleveland lamented that “we have carried over into our thinking about information (which is to say symbols) concepts development for the management of things – concepts such as property, depletion, depreciation, monopoly, market economics, the class struggle, and top-down leadership.”  It might help, he opined, “if we stop treating information as just another thing, and look hard at what makes it so special.”

In Cleveland’s 21st Century construct, information as a resource possesses these unique characteristics: 

  • Information is expandable – “The facts are never all in – and facts are available in such profusion that uncertainty becomes the most important planning factor.”  Thus, “the further a society moves toward making its living from the manipulation of information, the more its citizens will be caught up in a continual struggle to reduce the  information overload on their desks and in the lives in order to reduce the uncertainty about what to do.”
  • Information is compressible — “Though it’s infinitely expandable, information can be concentrated, integrated, summarized… for easy handling.”
  • Information is substitutable — It can replace capital, labor or physical materials.
  • Information is transportable — “In less than a century, we have been witness to a major dimensional change in both the speed and volume of human activity.”
  • Information is diffusive — It tends to leak – and the more it leaks the more we have. 
  • Information is shareable — Information by nature cannot give rise to exchange transactions, only to sharing transactions.  Things are exchanged.   “If I give you a fact or tell you a story, it’s like a good kiss: in sharing the thrill, you enhance it.”

Cleveland would relish the exuberant exchanges echoing through the Minneapolis Convention Center this weekend — snippets of conversations involving 3000 reform advocates talking about knowledge, wisdom, informed citizens and their role in a democracy, transparency in government, media ownership, network neutrality.  Many of these attendees may not know the name Harland Cleveland, but they understand  – intuitively and empirically — that information is a resource that is expandable, compressible, substitutable, transportable, diffusive and, most important, shareable — like a kiss! [Note 2]

Note 1 – This text is from the files of the author.

Note 2 – A national conference on media reform was progress in Minneapolis at this writing.

Note 3 –One of the earliest iterations of Cleveland’s thoughts on information as a resource is found in the December 1982 issue of The Futurist. Check the site for much more about Harlan Cleveland’s life as well as numerous articles written by Cleveland through the years.

Elected officials boast and voters of this day eschew the thoughts of the old guys, much less those who have gone before, it’s worth noting that, even in a digital age where communication is all about social media, words and ideas outlast the moment – at times to the peril of the source….Fortunately, the words and ideas are profound and preserved.  The expressed thoughts of Sibley and Cleveland are profound, preserved and provocative, now more than ever.



First Person + Third Person = Second Person (FP+TP=SP)

My foment of the moment concerns personhood – my personal reflections on moving from “I” to “She” – as in when

  • The clerk asks my young colleague “What does she  think?” of the lumpy garment I’m not going to buy anyway since she obviously doesn’t know I’m there.” .  or
  • A stranger asks my adult son, “Would she mind if we…” when I’d be quite able to express my own opinion of their ridiculous idea, or
  • A casual companion inquires of a younger friend  “Did she know (x)?”  — which I probably did and wouldn’t admit if I did.

Yes, one option is to shop, eat, live, and otherwise do everything alone – the problem is that the unaccompanied TP can expect to be ignored altogether.  Alone or with others, the negative impact of categorization as an invisible Third Person (TP) does not sit well with this functioning, if aging, First Person (FP).  This attitude is exacerbated by the fact that TP status almost universally to grey-haired women, seldom to silver haired men.

For all my long life I have known women who exuded FP-ness well into their senior years.  They were vital parents and relatives, colleagues, and friends.    When the clerk or waitress nodded to my diminutive mother and asked me what she wanted, I bristled while my mom, the customer, glowered  in righteous FP defiance – and did not darken that door again. A commanding presence 5-footer my mother could quell a student uprising with a withering glance.  She and her friends were FPs long after their allotted time.

Today’s  FPs would re-rank them as de-facto TPs.  After all, thee FP’s have marinated all their lives in a tempero- and ego-centric environment ruled by “I”, “me” “mine” and “now.”

Eons ago, when we TP’s were in high school we learned about the Malthusian Theory.  I recall calculating at the time that my generation would need thinning out by war or pestilence.  The clear alternative, euthanasia, seemed in my youth an inevitable possibility for my generation   Now I reflect that relegation to TP non-status is a socially acceptable form of euthanasia – out of sight, out of mind.

When children need attention they act out, an appropriate model for TPers, I’ve concluded.  Though some folks, even English majors, find his message morbid, Dylan Thomas inspires me to embrace the liberating anonymity of Third Personhood when he writes for his father and for TPs of generations to come:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Sounds good to me.  And so I intend to rage against all manner of atrocities, including at random:

  • pig-headed elected officials who can’t think for themselves, much less the voters
  • rude bus riders
  • opinion leaders who aver that the cost of war has nothing to do with the cost of Medicare  the pompous media who ignore, distort, or fail to check the facts
  • traffickers- drugs, children, and more
  • religious leaders who distort history while they prey hapless laity
  • game-playing education institutions that rob but do not teach
  • polluters
  • those who deny global warning
  • individuals and institutions that fail to nurture the children and youth who will soon enough take the place of today’s FP’s
  • anything else that denies full humanity to others.

My hope is not so much as to rave and rage but to channel the energy.  My eyes aren’t so good anymore, but I still have a vision.  That vision rests on the hope that the FP/TP world will dissolve into a robust Second Person world of “we” and “us” and “our”.  Awareness of language is a necessary if insufficient first step in the right direction.